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Tariff preferences and protection of confidence

by Dr. Thomas Kirchhoff

Large parts of the European Community's (EC) import and export trade are carried out with states with which the EC has concluded preferential agreements. These preferential agreements are international treaties in which either unilaterally or reciprocally customs concessions are granted for the import of certain goods. In addition to these preferential agreements, there are also a number of preferential regulations which the EC has unilaterally adopted. These contractual and autonomous preferential arrangements create free trade zones or customs unions between the respective partner states and the EC, which primarily serve trade, development and integration policy objectives.

In order to be able to apply the preferential tariff concessions to goods imports, most preferential regulations of the EC contain rules of origin. These rules of origin serve as a means of differentiation to limit preferential tariff concessions to products originating from the respective partner state. Proof that the rules of origin of the respective preferential arrangements have been observed is provided by the importers of the products into the EC by means of proofs of origin issued by the exporters of the products in the partner states or by the competent authorities of the partner states on the basis of information provided by the exporters. However, in the course of verifications carried out in recent years, it has been found that thousands of proofs of origin presented in the EC were forged or incorrect in content. This led to subsequent customs demands on the importers of the goods, which led to a loss of confidence in the functioning of the preferential arrangements and in some cases even threatened their economic existence. This also jeopardized the achievement of the above-mentioned goals through the preferential agreements.

On the basis of these cases, the present study examines the granting of protection of confidence to importers under the Customs Code and shows the development of this protection of confidence through the amendment of Art. 220 (2) (b) Customs Code and the more recent case law of the European courts.

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